The All Star game comes to Philadelphia this Wednesday. Well not exactly Philadelphia, just south in Chester. No, not baseball. You watched that two weeks ago. The AT&T MLS All Star game is putting its best stars on the field with the European League Champion and English Premier league team Chelsea. It might not mean a lot to you, but there will be a ton of excellent soccer talent in Chester, PA this week, and a reason to celebrate for Philadelphians.
Chelsea needs no introduction as a hotbed of talent and stellar soccer play. The MLS all stars did beat them last year though, and even though a friendly game, American soccer celebrated with great pride. The MLS will field a higher mix of veterans and a stout defense including the Philadelphia Union’s own Carlos Valdes. The team will have Landon Donovan, the leading US scorer of all time, and the eternal David Beckham. Dwyane De Rosario will shine with French’s all star Thierry Henry. All eyes will be on San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski who leads the league with 17 goals in just 19 games.
The team has a great mix of American born players, classic European greats, savvy Latin talent and even one Canadian. For almost two decades, MLS continues to see the talent ripen on American shores as the quality of play improves. Though even with that, the excitement is not there. I had hoped to really bring soccer into Philadelphia with this All Star game. The MLS should have played the game at Lincoln Financial with 70,000+. Why is it on a Wednesday? It should be on a Saturday night and under the bright lights. This was great chance to celebrate the region’s soccer talent, and little has been done to bring attention to the All Star game.
That is the problem. With the ubiquity of youth soccer, it does not make sense why the MLS has not grown in popularity. It remains an elite sport with the same snobbery associated with wine and cheese. It does not have any of the mundane and working class passion of European soccer and it remains only popular for a select group of fans and pre-teens. It continues to languish even with good talent and a new stadium in the region. Even though the MLS gave us a team in 2010, major league enthusiasm never did show up in Chester, except for an impassioned few called the Sons of Ben.
Will the All Star game issue in a new period of professional soccer interest?
As far as I am concerned, the locals see the game as one of interest for the soccer connoisseur but not one with mass appeal. Will soccer ever get out of the basement on the professional level? MLS has the talent, venues, and the grass roots to be ultra successful in this nation. The problem is that it is just not working in the Philadelphia region.
You can follow James Dugan on facebook and on Twitter @jamesduganlb. Purchase his new book through Amazon What Baseball Teaches: A Poetic Odyssey into 2008 Season of the World Champions Philadelphia Phillies